scene of backyards with zigzagging stairs at right; woman bending over a tub in center foreground; clothesline in LLC; wagon with horse at left middle ground; two bare trees with birds

Back Stairs, 1915

expand_more

Woodcutexpand_more

Gift of funds from Marla J. Kinneyexpand_more  2017.120

Not on Viewexpand_more

In the art colony nestled in the small fishing village of Provincetown, Mass., Mildred McMillen must have seemed like the neighbor who keeps watching her black-and-white television set long after everyone else on the block has switched to color TV. While her artist friends were causing a stir with their color woodcuts, McMillen remained steadfastly monochromatic. And instead of depicting the local characters, flowers, and harbor scenes like most artists in town, she wandered Cape Cod’s back alleys in search of interesting patterns, like a house painter’s scaffolding or a grouping of rooftops. In Backstairs (1915), her wood-carving skill is apparent in these complicated stairs. The scene is early morning, when shadows are long and the laundry has plenty of time to dry. McMillen’s starkly simplified elements give this woodcut a graphic power typical of European prints, which she undoubtedly saw while studying printmaking in Paris. Here she draws our attention to the solitary figure bent over her labors, her curved, solid form contrasting with the zigzagging stairs looming above her. In McMillen’s deft handling of the woman, the white of the paper becomes a second “color.”

Details
Title
Back Stairs
Artist Life
1884–1940
Role
Artist
Accession Number
2017.120
Provenance
[Holland and Company Fine Art, Bedford N.Y.]; [Mary Ryan Gallery, New York, N.Y., until 2017]
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

Does something look wrong with this image? Let us know

Show Detail

Zoom in on the left to the detail you'd like to save. Click 'Save detail' and wait until the image updates. Right click the image to 'save image as' or copy link, or click the image to open in a new tab.

scene of backyards with zigzagging stairs at right; woman bending over a tub in center foreground; clothesline in LLC; wagon with horse at left middle ground; two bare trees with birds